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The Impact of Minimum Wages on Wage Inequality and Employment in the Formal and Informal Sector in Costa Rica


  • Katherine Terrell


  • Fatma El Hamidi



This paper tests the impact of the Costa Rican minimum wage policy on wage inequality and the level of employment in the formal sector (covered by minimum wage legislation) and the informal (uncovered) sector. We also examine the redistributive effects of the minimum wage, between the covered sector and the uncovered sector. Regression analysis using micro data from the Labour Force Surveys over 17 years reveals three important findings. At the median, a unit increase in the minimum wage relative to the average wage is associated with: a) a reduction in wage inequality in the covered sector of between 0.9 percent (using the Gini) and 1.7 percent (using the Theil mean logarithmic deviation) and there is no effect on earnings inequality among the self-employed (using all measures); b) an increase in the level of covered sector employment by 0.56 percent, but no effect on the number of self-employed over time; c) an increase in the average number of hours worked per week by 0.14 percent in the covered sector and 0.34 percent in the uncovered sector. From a theoretical perspective, these finds are counter to the traditional competitive two-sector models of the minimum wage. We interpret them as supporting the monopsonistic and efficiency wage models of the labour market in those industries where the ratio of the minimum wage to the average wage ("toughness") is low but supports the traditional models in those industries where toughness is high. Given that we found overall employment to have increased, minimum wages could be seen as assisting the reallocation of labour from the traditional to the more modern sectors.

Suggested Citation

  • Katherine Terrell & Fatma El Hamidi, 2001. "The Impact of Minimum Wages on Wage Inequality and Employment in the Formal and Informal Sector in Costa Rica," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 479, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  • Handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:2001-479

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Brown, Charles, 1999. "Minimum wages, employment, and the distribution of income," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 32, pages 2101-2163 Elsevier.
    2. Drobny, Andres & Wells, John, 1983. "Wages, minimum wages, and income distribution in Brazil : Results from the construction industry," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 305-330, December.
    3. Bell, Linda A, 1997. "The Impact of Minimum Wages in Mexico and Colombia," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(3), pages 102-135, July.
    4. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1992. "The Effect of the Minimum Wage on the Fast-Food Industry," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(1), pages 6-21, October.
    5. Dickens, Richard & Machin, Stephen & Manning, Alan, 1999. "The Effects of Minimum Wages on Employment: Theory and Evidence from Britain," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(1), pages 1-22, January.
    6. repec:fth:prinin:298 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Coulter, Fiona A E & Cowell, Frank A & Jenkins, Stephen P, 1992. "Differences in Needs and Assessment of Income Distributions," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(2), pages 77-124, April.
    8. Fiszbein, Ariel, 1992. "Do workers in the informal sector benefit from cuts in the minimum wage?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 826, The World Bank.
    9. Freeman, Richard B, 1996. "The Minimum Wage as a Redistributive Tool," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(436), pages 639-649, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kertesi, Gábor & Köllő, János, 2004. "A 2001. évi minimálbér-emelés foglalkoztatási következményei
      [The employment consequences of the 2001 rise in the minimum wage]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(4), pages 293-324.
    2. T. H. Gindling & Katherine Terrell, 2004. "The Effects of Multiple Minimum Wages Throughout the Labor Market," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 2004-701, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
    3. Leonardo Becchetti & Furio Camillo Rosati, 2007. "Global Social Preferences and the Demand for Socially Responsible Products: Empirical Evidence from a Pilot Study on Fair Trade Consumers," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 30(5), pages 807-836, May.
    4. Anna Ruzik & Magdalena Rokicka, 2010. "The Gender Pay Gap in Informal Employment in Poland," CASE Network Studies and Analyses 406, CASE-Center for Social and Economic Research.
    5. Haroon Bhorat & Tara Caetano & Benjamin Jourdan & Ravi Kanbur & Christopher Rooney & Benjamin Stanwix & Ingrid Woolard, 2016. "Investigating the Feasibility of a National Minimum Wage for South Africa," Working Papers 201601, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    6. Leonardo Becchetti & Furio Camillo Rosati, 2005. "The demand for socially responsible products: empirical evidence from a pilot study on fair trade consumers," Working Papers 04, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    7. Sara lemos, 2004. "The Effects of the Minimum Wage in the Formal and Informal Sectors in Brazil," Discussion Papers in Economics 04/8, Department of Economics, University of Leicester.

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    minimum wages; employment; wage inequality; monopsony; Costa Rica;

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